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In James 2:10-12 we read:

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

My question concerns what James is saying about the nature of the law. How do we interpret James 2:10?

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    Does this answer your question? Where did James get the idea that breaking one commandment means breaking all?
    – Michael16
    Apr 16, 2022 at 7:37
  • No. I am not asking where James got this idea. I am asking why not where.
    – user49416
    Apr 16, 2022 at 7:54
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    I noticed the topic is basically same. Where did he get the idea or why does write like that or what does he mean or how to understand this text are same things.
    – Michael16
    Apr 16, 2022 at 7:59
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    No it isn't. Read carefully. He wants to know if all sin is capital and if it is found in the Torah or not. I don't want to know about that. I want to know how you break all when breaking one. He is concerned with the penalty of sin and I am concerned with the nature of sin.
    – user49416
    Apr 16, 2022 at 8:03

3 Answers 3

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To me the answer is quite simple and can be found elsewhere. The following two passages of Scripture bring out the reason for me so clearly:

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Rom. 13:8-10

And the second passage:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matt. 22:37-40

There are two things (essentially the same) that I learn about what the 10 commamdments really are when I read these passages. Instead of the commandments simply being a list of 10 rules, I see that all ten of them are based on exactly the same priciple - love.

Therefore if I break one commandment I show myself to be out of harmony with the principle that is also the foundation of the other nine.

Conversely, I see that it is possible to keep all ten of the commandments by adhering to that one foundational principle.

Rev. 22:14 and 14:12 describes the following to us:

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

When these two verses, in a book that speaks of the end of sin, are read in light of Matt. 22:37-40 and Rom. 13:8-10 it becomes clear to me just how seriously God is looking for people who keep all His commandments by simply keeping the 'new commandment' He gave in John 13:34 and that this commandment is not truly new but merely new to anyone with such a shallow conception of the law as to fragment them into ten separate ideas.

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Because you become transgressors of whole law, not just of one commandment. Crossing the line or boundary of the law is done by failing on any command. There is no such thing as a limit of commands to be broken, in order to become transgressors.

The Message version puts it like this:

You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others. The same God who said, “Don’t commit adultery,” also said, “Don’t murder.” If you don’t commit adultery but go ahead and murder, do you think your non-adultery will cancel out your murder? No, you’re a murderer, period.

NLT version:

James 2:10: “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.”

We can understand the sense of it as “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point it is as though he has become guilty for all of it.” Your keeping of 99% of the law is not gonna save you. Your obedience to "most" commands is worthless. The point is about slackness of the law, lawlessness or libertinism or licentiousness.

Matthew 5:29: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”

Deuteronomy 27:9-10,17,26; 28:1: “Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the LORD your God. You shall therefore obey the voice of the LORD your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.” … “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ … “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.”

Deuteronomy 28:15: ““But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.”

Think about it like this. The penalty of one murder is death, and the penalty of 100 murders is also death. You become guilty of death by committing just one.

John described the definition of sin in his epistles in great details, all wrongdoings are sin but not all sin leads to death. Bridgeway Bible dictionary defines Sin as:

Sin The Bible refers to sin by a variety of Hebrew and Greek words. This is partly because sin may appear in many forms, from deliberate wrongdoing and moral evil to accidental failure through weakness, laziness or ignorance (Exo 32:30; Pro 28:13; Mat 5:22,28; Rom 1:1-32; Jam 4:17). but the common characteristic of all sin is that it is against God (Psa 51:4; Rom 8:7). It is the breaking of God’s law, that law being the expression of the perfection that God’s absolute holiness demands (Isa 1:2; 1Jo 3:4). It is the ‘missing of the mark’, that ‘mark’ being the perfect standard of the divine will (Deu 9:18; Rom 3:23). It is unbelief, for it rejects the truth God has revealed (Deu 9:23; Psa 1:78-22; Joh 1:3-19; Joh 8:24; Joh 16:9). It is ungodliness, and it makes a person guilty before God (Psa 1:1-6; Rom 1:18; Jam 2:10).

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It means that if we break one commandment we are in danger of breaking any of the others. This alternative interpretation hangs on the Greek word “enochos”, which in James 2:10 is translated into “guilty of” by most, if not all, translations. But, this Greek word, can also be interpreted to mean “in danger of”, according to Strongs’ Concordance.

We also find this Greek word, “enochos”, in Mat 5:22 were Jesus says that we are in danger of Hell Fire if we call somebody “fool”. Jesus didn’t say that we would have Hell Fire if we called somebody “fool”, but that we would just be in danger of it. Otherwise Jesus himself would automatically have Hell Fire when he called the Pharisees “fools” in Mat 23.

Consequently, if we lie we could indirectly cause someone to die, by they being led astray by our lies and stumbling to their death. Or if we commit adultery we would be likely to first coveting our neighbors wife, breaking so at least three commandments in the process: coveting, steeling, adultery, and possibly murder. Or if we are crooked architects and steel from our customers by using defective building materials to save money, we become murderers too when the building crashes down killing people. Etc.

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